Articles - 11th December 2020

Freelancing in Lockdown 2

Words by Elizabeth Bennett
Illustration by Jon McCormack

Back in April when we were in the sourdough bread and Zoom quiz stage of lockdown, I spoke to four freelancers about how the global pandemic had impacted their work. With the majority of us confined to our homes and many seeing work dry up overnight, it was a tough time. However, for those in the self-employed community, it was also a period of creativity with many pivoting, creating new opportunities and accelerating in ways they might not have done before.

Eight months later, with restrictions eased, hope in the form of a new vaccine, and the country taking baby steps to a ‘new normal’, some aspects of work are returning to a BC (before coronavirus) state. Nevertheless, the economy is still suffering, and the impact of 2020 will certainly be long lasting. Here, I spoke to five freelancers about how the past eight months have changed their working life – for better and for worse.

 

Katie White, a facialist and founder of re:lax, a skin studio in East London

Due to government restrictions, we were closed from 16th March to 15th August. In February, I expanded the business and tripled the size of our premises and then in March we lost around 95% of our revenue stream overnight. Luckily, we had some alternative options in place and were quick to react. Firstly, an e-commerce platform to sell skincare products and beauty tools. We really focused on this and saw incredible growth between March and June. We also made our skin workshops digital, started offering online skin consultations and partnered with brands such as Timeout and Lululemon to create content.

From March until May we managed to stay just as profitable despite the closed studio but we realised this was due to everyone being stuck at home and in June and July we saw engagement and sales drop off. We were then messed around by the government about our opening date. During this time, I was on Sky News, BBC and The Today Programme fighting to get our studio back open. We were finally allowed to open on 15th August and have seen an uplift in bookings since. It’s been a challenging time, but it’s been great to realise the opportunity that lies in other areas of the business.

 

Kate Young, a safeguarding consultant and CEO of Safeguarding Association based in Humberside

Like many, March saw my diary empty practically overnight. Prior to this I was delivering child protection training up and down the country and consulting for a number of organisations. Many of my clients were fearful of training online as they’d had bad experiences previously or had been warned away from the technology by IT departments. In addition, those I work with – predominantly further education institutions and universities – are often very cautious about the online world.

Luckily, I was eligible for the Small Business Rate Relief Grant and able to apply for the bounceback loan. This made an enormous difference and meant I was able to invest in software to support the changes I needed to make. As awful as the pandemic has been, it has allowed me to see what my ideal work and life balance would be. I was increasingly fed up with the constant mileage and living out of a suitcase. I now enjoy a morning stroll with my golden retriever and a leisurely cup of coffee.

 

Nicole Louise Geddes, founder of entertainment company, Manic Stage Productions based in Portsmouth

As you can imagine, my work in entertainment came to a complete halt in March and is not returning to normal anytime soon. I had an overwhelming urge to help my core team of freelance performers who I’d no longer be guaranteeing contracts and bookings. Inspired by my own journey from professional performer to entrepreneur, I set up the Performer-Preneur movement to share my business knowledge and help performers create side hustles and expand their identity. The group rapidly grew and now has 620 plus performers turned entrepreneurs.

Life has changed for me dramatically over the last months. I’ve gone from a diary full of in-person meetings, rehearsals, events and shows across the country to spending all my time at home. I’ve had to come to terms with the slower pace, lower income, less human contact and losing the daily excitement of working in show business. I have however learnt to embrace the ‘new normal’ and I’m grateful for the time spent with my five-year-old son and husband and the ability to pivot and turn my side hustle into a business online.

 

Suki Chandi Pickering, a digital analytics specialist based in Warlingham, Surrey

After switching between permanent and freelance roles, I went back into contract work in October 2019. I finished my last contract at NSPCC on March 3st right at the start of lockdown. Luckily, a maternity cover role at WFF (the conservation charity – a dream gig) came up at my old agency not long after. I was shortlisted, interviewed over Zoom and got the contract (running until Jan 2020). I feel really grateful that I have been able to work throughout this period as I am a single parent.

This year made me realise that commuting five days a week has a really negative impact on my mental wellbeing. I’ve also realised that I don’t need to go to the office just to be visible as a freelancer. Working from home has also allowed me to spend extra time with my child and do more cycling. I am a road cyclist and just about managed 40km a month and now I’m doing 40-60km a week.

 

 

Suzanne Bearne, freelance journalist and media consultant based in Margate

Like many freelance journalists, I’ve seen commissions – including a regular Guardian slot – drop since the outbreak of coronavirus. Many editors no longer have the budget they used to given advertising has fallen off a cliff. I also have a side gig as a media consultant and prior to you-know-what, I held monthly workshops around the UK teaching PRs and businesses how to boost their press coverage and build relationships with journalists. Obviously, all my events have had to be cancelled and I’m not sure when there’ll be an appetite again for physical training. However, I’m trying not to be too downbeat. With more time on my hands during lockdown I knuckled down to create an online course, Lessons from a Journalist: How to Secure Press Coverage, which has led to a steady stream of income coming in and I run regular webinars.

I also joined the newsletter brigade, setting up a fortnightly newsletter providing bulls*t-free insights into being a journalist and tips for those wanting to be featured in the press; created two eBooks on pitching to journalists during coronavirus; and I’ve just set up a content network of professional writers who can help with anything from crafting press releases to brainstorming pitching ideas. I’m trying my hardest to be creative when it comes to work. I was one of the fortunate ones to be eligible for the grant, which has been a massive help. Now that’s come to an end, there’s a constant money hangover and I can see that continuing for some time. My day-to-day life remains the same almost given I’ve mainly worked from home since going freelance many years ago. However, Covid-19 did mean I had to pack my bags and leave Berlin just 10 days into a two-month stint as I felt it would be wiser to be surrounded by a strong community at home in Margate. I’m very grateful that a swim in the sea is free.

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